By Josh Cohen
December 15, 2011
ORLANDO -- When Kobe Bryant requested a trade out of Los Angeles a few years ago, it was very apparent that in order to mollify the perennial All-Star, the Lakers needed to exceed expectations in the early portion of the season.
Well before they acquired Pau Gasol a couple of weeks before the trade deadline in 2008, the Lakers showed they were a much better team than anticipated. That early success, in effect, proved to Bryant that the Lakers were a legitimate championship contender.
With Kobe playing at an MVP level, Andrew Bynum surpassing expectations and with the insertion of one of the more gifted power forwards, Gasol, the Lakers ultimately advanced to the NBA Finals that year.
It will be an extremely similar situation this season as it relates to Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic.
Yes, Howard requested a trade out of Orlando recently – citing that the Magic are not currently constructed for championship triumph.
However, if Orlando starts the season strong – let’s say posting a 20-5 record out of the gate – Dwight’s outlook could and will likely drastically change.
As it did for Bryant, winning tends to alleviate any desire to leave. Talk of trade speculation and rebuilding strategies will rapidly evolve into discussions of championships and ascendancy.
Fortunately for the Magic, their schedule is a favorable one. After its visit to Oklahoma City on Christmas Day, Orlando plays six straight games against teams that did not qualify for the playoffs last season.
While the frequent back-to-backs on the schedule as a result of the abridged NBA season could cause anomalous fatigue, it’s possible for the Magic to quickly jump ahead of the rest of the conference.
In addition, Orlando won’t have to fly out to L.A. this season. Avoiding any Staples Center trips against the Lakers and Clippers – inarguably two of the best teams in the Western Conference after Chris Paul’s arrival – is extremely beneficial.
It’s imperative for the Magic to be a top two team in the East by the time All-Star Weekend in Orlando rolls around. Rather than arduous conversations about the future of Howard, the greater focus will be on the Magic’s potential to capture the NBA championship.
Forget what the national media thinks; the Magic are certainly in position to compete for a title. They possess a top five player – a perquisite to be a championship contender – and are balanced at every other position.
More than ever before, every regular season game for Orlando will feel like Game 7 of the NBA Finals. After wins, on one hand, the Magic will be perceived strong enough to challenge for a title. After losses, on the other hand, the Magic will be expected to field trade offers for Howard and start their rebuilding plan.
Review the Magic’s schedule yourself and evaluate how you think they will do.
After analyzing each of their opponents in each poll, determine what the Magic's record will be against those adversaries. In this edition, predict the results of games in December and January.
12/5-1/1: @OKC, HOU, NJN, @CHA, TOR
1/2-1/11: @DET, WAS, CHI, @SAC, @POR
1/12-1/20: @GSW, @NYK, CHA, SAS, LAL
1/23-1/30: @BOS, @IND, BOS, @NOH, IND, @PHI
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